Beware of vultures disguised as owls

Entrepreneurs and business leaders should realise that the popularised notion that “There’s no such thing as a free lunch” is fundamentally flawed.

As a young and inexperienced, yet very hungry, start-up entrepreneur, I took every opportunity to dine with wise old business owls. The knowledge I gained was priceless, and over the years these people have not just become my go-to advisors, but also my friends.

However, I also learnt how to spot a vulture. I’m talking about the consultants who show little else than large pound-signs glowing in their eyes when they speak to you.

You’ll come across many of them, each one reminding you of how cut-throat and profit-driven the business world can be.

It’s important, therefore, to remember is that there are still good people out there. And a successful business, especially in the early stages, may just depend on you finding these people.

When I meet with a prospective advisor, there are five main factors I measure:

* have they been there i.e. have they founded a business from scratch?
* how much have they researched about my business before meeting me?
* are their solutions designed to build long-term success or just a quick gain?
* are they honest enough to flag the aspects that, in their opinion, don’t work?
* are they honest enough to tell me something I might not want to hear?

However, finding the right people is becoming increasingly difficult thanks to an increase in the number of consultants out there.

Interestingly, this seems to be a result of the financial crisis – between 2009 and 2010, while the UK was in the deep midst of recession, the number of senior consultants increased by 10 per cent, while the big accountancy firms saw pretty consistent growth during the crisis.

This isn’t necessarily beneficial for entrepreneurs and business leaders. Last year, only 30 per cent of clients were satisfied with the consultation services they received. Differentiating the genuine advice from the profit-driven has clearly become more convoluted.

It’s therefore important that you don’t rush this process or lose patience; good wise owls are out there and will give free advice. On occasion they may even buy you a lunch, so make sure you don’t take it for granted and do reciprocate.